How much does a script really matter? When famed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa penned Something Like An Autobiography, he put the onus of the movie on the page, “With a good script, a good director can produce a masterpiece; with the same script, a mediocre director can make a passable film. But with a bad script, even a good director can’t possibly make a good film.”

If there is an exception to this rule, it is the latest movie from writer/director David Robert Mitchell, It Follows, which opens in the theaters this Friday. That is not to say that Mitchell’s script is poor in structure or character, but that the premise is so hokey with an after-school scare tactic that it’s a shock It Follows has any teeth at all.

But teeth it has! Big, sharp, and genuinely terrifying ones. It Follows isn’t just a horror movie full of popcorn shock moments (although it has that too), but one crafted primarily from dread and unease. Full of allusions to 1980s horror (particularly a fantastic synth score from Rich Vreeland) and focusing primarily on atmosphere, Mitchell wisely cribs a page from John Carpenter’s playbook and makes “it” present in every scene, whether “it” is actually there or not.

“It” is a zombie-like creature that can take any form and appear at anytime, slowly lumbering toward its victim—in this case, Jay (Maika Monroe), among a few others. Jay and her friends—Paul (Kier Gilchrist), Kelly (Lili Sepe), Yara (Olivia Luccardi)—find that they can run from “it,” but they can’t hide. “It” can appear anywhere and at any time, slowly wearing down its victim until it catches them—ending their life in a fairly gruesome manner.

But, to that premise: how you get “it” is by sleeping with someone who already has “it.” How do you get rid of “it”? By sleeping with someone else and passing “it” along. Although, that doesn’t necessarily free you from “it.” If the person you gave “it” is killed by “it,” then “it” comes back for you and so on and so forth.

It may be a silly premise, but Mitchell uses it to the best effect and crafts a phenomenal film. Even though “it” is transmitted sexually, “it” isn’t necessarily a stand-in for STDs. More accurately, “it” is death, which slowly shambles toward us all. Maybe it misses us today, and maybe it gets someone else tomorrow, but eventually, “it” will get us all. The only way we can combat this fate is to share “it” with others.

This human connection is key to Mitchell’s central thesis. Mitchell places a great deal of emphasis on Jay’s hands, first as singular—caressing a flower after she has just had sex (her nails are painted red appropriately)—and then as connection with Jay and Paul walking hand-in-hand down the sidewalk (possible a reference to the Raoul Walsh’s doomed duo in both High Sierra and Colorado Territory). “It” might still be following them, and “it” will certainly find them, “it” always does, but in the meantime, it sure feels nice to hold someone’s hand until “it” finally catches up to you.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

It Follows (2014)
Written & Directed by: David Robert Mitchell
Produced by: Rebecca Green, David Kaplan, Erik Rommesmo, Laura D. Smith
Starring: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi, Lili Sepe, Jake Weary
RADiUS-TWC, Rated R, Running time 100 minutes, Opens March 27, 2015.